Bracy plans for ‘long haul’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 23, 2008

JACKSON – Dr. Eric Bracy says he’s in it for the long haul.

More than a month after taking his position as Superintendent of Northampton County Public Schools, Dr. Bracy is reacquainting himself with the community his family is deeply rooted in and preparing for the upcoming school year that begins Monday (Aug. 25).

“I think it’s gone well,” said Dr. Bracy about the first month in his new role. “We’ve been looking at our Human Resources service allotments as well as our financial situation, that’s what we spend a lot of time doing now.”

Though most of his time has revolved around getting settled into his new position, Bracy is looking ahead to being a visible leader within the schools.

“I look forward to getting out to the schools when the kids come,” he said. “That’s where I’ll spend most of my time once they get into the building.”

Dr. Bracy’s family is entrenched in Northampton County as well as Weldon City Schools in neighboring Halifax County. His mother and father are retired educators of Weldon City Schools, where his brother, Elie Bracy, is now superintendent.

Northampton County played a vital role in Bracy’s upbringing. His parents are both natives of the county, as well as his grandparents. The Bracy’s owned a farm off the Jackson Bypass where Dr. Bracy spent many hours on weekdays and weekends helping his family with chores.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” he said of those days.

Ten years after he left the area to pursue his career in education (his first teaching job came at Squire Elementary), Bracy and his wife, Janelle, along with their three daughters have settled in the northeastern part of the county.

Bracy said his daughters, who range in age from six to one, are adjusting to life in the county.

“They love being around their cousins everyday, their grandparents—they’re enjoying it, they’re really enjoying it,” he said.

Though Bracy admits it has been 10 years since he’s been in the Northampton County community, he plans to make the most of it.

In the beginning of this month, a public reception was held in Bracy’s honor and days before that he spoke at a unity breakfast at Boon’s Chapel near Jackson.

“My plan is to be in a church every Sunday,” said Dr. Bracy. “(I’ll) try to get to know the community and the community can get to know me. I know a lot of people here, but there are a lot of people I don’t know…I look forward to reacquainting myself with this area.”

One of Bracy’s beliefs he has reiterated since he was hired has been the emphasis of “customer service,” which is something he defines as the school system being “student friendly, parent friendly and community friendly.”

“I just think open and honest communication takes care of all those things,” said Bracy.

Bracy continued by saying he has an open door policy and is willing to accommodate those who would like to come in and talk with him. He said all one has to do is contact his Administrative Assistant Patricia Harris to set up a time.

“I think that people, particularly in a small, rural town, like someone they can put their hands on and be easily accessible,” he said. “And I’ve been that since I’ve got into this business. And I’m not going to change that; I’m going to be who I am.”

With the school year fast approaching, Bracy has definitive goals for the schools, including increase student achievement, increasing the number of schools that meet or exceed growth and increasing the number of schools that meet their adequately yearly progress (AYP) goals.

AYP results for mathematics was recently released with only four of the 10 schools in Northampton County making the grade, including Conway Middle School, Gaston Middle School, Central Elementary and Northampton Alternative School. Bracy said Garysburg Elementary School missed by one sub-group.

“I would have liked it to have been higher,” he said. “Considering all of what this district has been through over the last year, they’ve had three superintendents in a calendar year. I’m fourth superintendent in a 12-month period, that’s unbelievable when you think about it. …We have to look at the sub-groups that did not meet it. And figure out why they didn’t meet it and figure out what we have to do to meet the needs of those students. And I think the key in doing all those things is to assess and assess on a regular basis to see where our kids are and not wait to the end when it’s too late to do anything to remediate or accelerate to where they need to be.”

Bracy would also like to get back to data-driven assessments and farther away from programs focused on improving academic achievement.

“We just have to let our data drive our decisions and we need to become even more data driven than we’ve ever been before in these times of high accountability and high stakes testing,” he said. “So I’m thinking another program is not the answer to anything. We’ve just got to use what we’ve got and use it wisely.”

Bracy also plans to address the turnover rate in Northampton County Schools.

“There’s been a teacher turnover rate that we have to address and figure out why it’s happening, why we’re losing our teachers,” he said. “What are they doing? Are they just going to grad-school or are they leaving the profession all together? We have to figure that piece out.”

He noted some of the challenges in recruiting teachers lie within the rural area that is Northampton County.

Bracy said the reality is people can live an hour and a half up the road and be in Raleigh and Durham and making so much more as far as local supplement is concerned.

“But I think the benefits closely outweigh the challenges, the closeness of our community, the impact you can make on a community as far as being a role model is concerned,” he said. “So I think the advantages closely outweigh the disadvantages.”

Despite those challenges, Bracy plans to place people in the schools that care about the area and truly want to be there.

“I’ll be here for a long time and we have to go out and find principals, teachers who want to be here in Northampton County and who want to be here for the long haul,” said Bracy. “And that could be people who are from here or people who are not from here…it’s all about your commitment. …Committed community-minded people make a difference in this business.”